Trying Out A Classic: City Lights

I’m new to writing film criticism. I’ve been talking and thinking about movies since 2001 when the development of my preadolescent brain coincided with the release of The Fellowship of the Ring, the first movie that ever made me want to discuss a movie with other people, but writing about what a movie is, and what it means, is something with which I have little experience.

So I asked Google “How to be a better film critic” and several great tidbits of knowledge appeared. I read through many of them, taking a mental note, hopefully benefiting both you, the reader, and I. The one that stuck the most was ‘Expand Your Cinematic Vocabulary‘.

Now, could my verbal vocabulary use some improvement? Indubitably. When it comes to older films, many considered essential to the history of cinema, I admit I’m sorely lacking. I’ve never seen Scorsese’s Raging Bull or Ford’s Stagecoach or Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. And that’s just three. The Venn Diagram of ‘Classics’ and ‘Movies I Haven’t Seen’ is nearly a circle. This blog provides more motivation to get a few great films knocked off my list.

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Aaron’s The Revenant Review: A Unique Cliche

This is my attempt at a review of The Revenant. Evan posted his yesterday. I did not talk to him or read his review before writing mine. Let’s see how different our opinions are…

One of my favorite genres is the Western. The harsh wilderness sets the tone for the rough-around-the-edges characters who’re just trying to survive and maybe thrive alongside the nature of man’s avarice. Plus, one character usually has a cool accent. So, put a Western in some of the most beautiful snowy landscapes, recruit some top-notch actors, let it all play out as one of the decade’s best directors wants, in front of possibly the best cinematographer’s camera and you’ve got a success, right? As much as I want to say it’s true: it’s not.

It’s true that I had high hopes for The Revenant. The film was shot in the mountain ranges of Canada and Argentina, apparently some of the most beautiful places on Earth. I’m from Illinois, the third flattest state in America; on a clear day, when the corn’s down, I can see for miles. It may not seem that interesting, but there aren’t many places like it and I get a kick out of living here. That being said, mountains mystify my flat-lander mind. The mountains in The Revenant fill the entirety of the screen even though they’re miles and miles away. Movies like this, shot high in the mountains, are few and very far between. Continue reading “Aaron’s The Revenant Review: A Unique Cliche”

The Revenant: Survival cranked to eleven!

I really liked Birdman. Like, I really liked Birdman, probably saw it seven times last year. Also, I hiked through Wyoming and Montana this summer, so when my brother (the other writer here) showed me the trailer for The Revenant, I was super pumped! Not only is the Revenant a return for Iñárritu, but Birdman’s (and The Tree of Life’s) cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki is along as well. With these two teaming up for a movie set in the mountain range that I just spent a few months in, I couldn’t ask for more.

Iñárritu specializes in human misery, almost his entire filmography is dedicated to suffering. If The Revenant is different from his other works, it’s because it’s an even more, visual and visceral form of suffering. Based on the true story of Hugh Glass’s survival of a bear attack, The Revenant takes wilderness survival and cranks the dial to torture porn. With a multi-minute bear attack in your face and an “And I thought these things smelled bad on the outside” scene, by the end of the movie you may find yourself desensitized to brutal violence, and total gross-outs. Continue reading “The Revenant: Survival cranked to eleven!”

Words about the Golden Globe Nominations

Look, here’s the deal: I just woke up and I’ve got 30-ish minutes to pump something out. Evan’s been throwing out reviews like they’re parade candy and I need to make sure I’m not slacking. So I’m going to give a few of my thoughts on the Best Motion Picture nominees of the upcoming Golden Globes. Will they mean anything, have any affect on the race, or be of any kind of relative importance? Nope. But let’s not let that stop us from expressing our thoughts on an internet blog.

Your Best Motion Picture nominees are as follows:

  • Carol
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • The Revenant
  • Room
  • Spotlight

I’m going to quickly assume that you know what each movie is about. This allows me to achieve completion in the 30-ish minute timespan I created for myself.

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Mulholland Drive

If you’ve stumbled upon this article, I’m willing to bet, that you were just googling Mulholland Drive, that’s not surprising. I’m sure most people who watch Mulholland Drive end up googling it, but why is that? What made you look it up? Did you google it because you didn’t understand it? Or was it because you’ve been thinking about it all day?

As I look back at some of my favorite pieces of art I realize that at one point I was, or still am, completely baffled by it. Whether it’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Pulp Fiction, or a Frank Zappa album I often step back, examine the piece and ask why? Why did the artist create this? Why did the artist create it the way he/she did? What does it mean? Why do people like this? Asking these questions has often proved valuable, they often bring me to a greater understanding of a beautiful piece of art. Mulholland Drive demand’s investigation, after all, it’s about investigation. But it refuses to give us any answers to the questions we usually ask.

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The Hateful Eight

Quentin Tarantino paints with a palette of the past. As a young man, he worked in a video store, studiously absorbing film. When he began creating movies himself, he construed the elements of classic cinematic storytelling into his own modern pastiche, this is what sets him apart, and why he is often considered the most influential filmmaker of the 90s. Nearly twenty-five years after his first major film Tarantino gives us his first true western, his eighth film, The Hateful Eight.

The Weinstein company has rolled out the red carpet for Tarantino’s film. Paying to install one hundred 70mm projectors in theaters across the States, and producing two hundred fifty pounds of film per screen, they’ve gone through a lot to give us the experience Tarantino intended. Regardless of your opinion on film vs. digital, the “roadshow” screening of the film is the revival of a dead format; an impressive feat. With an exclusive six-minute overture, an intermission, extra footage and an informative program, the 70mm screening is the way to see The Hateful Eight.

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Midnight in Paris

midnight_in_parisIn the year 2015 most of us live in a world of needs met. With roofs over our heads, and food in our pantry our attention turns beyond the necessities, often to the arts. Comic books characters, musicians, fantasy novels, and television shows have conquered pop culture. We occupy our attention by consuming beauty, and we are identified by what we consume. Appreciation of art is a huge part of our lives, but how many movies deal primarily with our loving consumption of art?

The nostalgic fanboy Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) is obsessed with Paris in the twenties. A time when artists such as Fitzgerald, Cole Porter and Dali constantly bumped into each other hopping from bar to bar. Gils soon to be wife, Inez (Rachel McAdams) doesn’t see the gleam of Paris; she’s pushing for a place in Malibu. One night Gil goes for a walk to soak in the Parisian lights, he is mysteriously pickup by an old Peugeot and taken back in time to his golden age. He begins rubbing shoulders with his idols. He discusses life and love with his favorite writers and after building up confidence, even asks their opinions of his novel in progress. During the day Gil follows his finance on her perpetual shopping spree, at night he slips away to mingle with the greats. Gil soon meets Adriana (Marion Cotillard) a inamorata of Picasso, Hemingway, and Matisse. Adriana doesn’t get Gils love of Paris in the 1920s, she believes the golden age of Paris was the 1890s; Paris’s Bell Epoque. Constantly jumping between his finance and Adriana, Gil began to question whether his life would be greater if he lived in the 20s.

With 16 Oscar nominations for Best Original Screenplay, Woody Allen holds the record. When Midnight in Paris won him his third Oscar for screenwriting, he took the lead for most wins. He deserves it. Allen must have enjoyed writing lines for his literary idols. He has Hemingway rambling on about boxing and pride and Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald arguing over which party to attend. Every line is full of references to artists of the time and of their work.

The actors pull their characters from the dialogue, and they all do it well. Allen draws star power. Tom Hiddleston plays Scott Fitzgerald, Adrian Brody plays a loopy Salvador Dali and Kathy Bates kills it as the motherly Gertrude Stein. Allen references these characters in many of his films, I’m sure he is very familiar with their works and personalities, and I’m sure he was behind the camera giving the actors pointers on how to portray his idols. I doubt the performances are to be literal as much as they are fun characterizations, the way a nostalgic fanboy may see them. When reading Hemingway I will forever find myself impersonating Corey Stoll’s Hemingway, who speaks the way the author wrote, brief, direct, unbroken.

Owen Wilson plays the Woody Allen character. Like many of Woody Allen’s former roles Gil is observant, often cynical, and always sharp. But Wilson’s character is a much more passive form of the classic Woody Allen. Gil rarely affects the world around him, he takes it in with wide eyes. As he makes his way through the 20s nightlife the camera often focuses on the people around Gil, giving them sorta monologues, while Gil sits back in conversation. At times the film feels like a collection of miniature portraits tied together by Gil’s wandering of the streets.

On the surface Midnight in Paris is calling out, nostalgia as a fallacy. The pedantic character Paul (Michael Sheen) claims, “Nostalgia is denial… It’s a flaw in the romantic imagination of those people who find it difficult to cope with the present.” It takes Gil nearly the entire movie to realize this. During an insight Gil proclaims, “That’s what the present is. It’s a little unsatisfying, because life’s a little unsatisfying.” But the beauty of the film doesn’t come from this realization, it comes from the fact that we can always find beauty and inspiration in art. After reading Gil’s novel in progress, about a man who works in an antique store, Gertrude Stein offers some criticism, “The artist job is not to succumb to despair, but to find an antidote for the emptiness of existence.”

Midnight in Paris isn’t Allen’s fist romantic portrayal of a city. The opening scene of his 1973 film Manhattan stands as one of the most iconic portraits of New York City in film. Opening with black and white images of bumpy subway cars over bustling streets. A man with a jackhammer is busy while three hard hat construction workers whistle at a passerby. Ending with the brash American jazz of Gershwin, it builds to a crescendo of fireworks over central park.

Midnight in Paris seems to open in contrast to the iconic intro sequence of Manhattan. Allen gives us four uninterrupted minutes of modern Paris. If one doesn’t pay attention, one may miss what’s going on here. Allen is holding up a magnifying glass to the streets of Paris. He’s digging it. He wants us to see it as well, not just Paris, but that he is digging Paris. Allen is encouraging  us to soak in the present. He gushes in the Parisian lights, just like his character Gil. Allen has written a story that presents appreciation as a virtue because worship of beauty can give us meaning and give life a sense of satisfaction.

During a late night walk along the Seine River with Adriana, Gil gives one of his longest lines of the movie, one that comes to my mind often.

“You know, I sometimes think, how is anyone ever gonna come up with a book, or a painting, or a symphony, or a sculpture that can compete with a great city. You can’t. Because you look around and every street, every boulevard, is its own special art form and when you think that in the cold, violent, meaningless universe that Paris exists, these lights, I mean come on, there’s nothing happening on Jupiter or Neptune, but from way out in space you can see these lights, the cafés, people drinking and singing. For all we know, Paris is the hottest spot in the universe.”